February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Bloody Good: Don’t miss J. Anderson Coats’s debut, ‘The Wicked and the Just’ | Under Cover

Your novel, The Wicked and the Just, has two feisty 13th-century teens: Cecily, whose father forces her to move to Wales from England to seek a better life, and Gwenhwyfar, her resentful servant who lost everything when the British took over her town. Why Wales? Most folks have never even heard of it!

That’s true. I remember when I was in library school, I had a colleague who said, “Wales! That’s even a place?!”—and another associate, who said, “Your story is about medieval Wales. Really? They were different back then?”

How’d you get hooked on the Middle Ages?

It was kind of by accident. When I was in the sixth grade, I was in the gifted-enrichment program, and we did a unit on medieval culture. Our teacher had a bunch of books for us to look through, and one of them was David Macaulay’s Castle, which made the Middle Ages feel very approachable and lively. The castle that’s featured in that book is a fictional castle in Wales.

I went home from school that day, and I asked my mom to take me to the library. I went right to the nine-whatever’s in the Dewey Decimal system and just started pulling books off the shelf, and I started reading. When I read through all of those, I moved on to all the other books that they had about medieval culture. Then I started asking mom, “Can you get me books on interlibrary loan?” I just kept reading and reading, and I have never really left.

Did kids think you were a real geek?

Yes. I still had friends and hung out and did normal things but, really, there was nobody who appreciated the same things that I did. Other kids ran track and went to the prom, but I read Táin Bó Cúailnge and made a complicated list of medieval recipes for fun. Plenty of people looked at that and said, “Yeah, that’s weird.”

What’s the biggest misconception about people who lived in medieval times?

That they were very straitlaced and proper, just because their lives were really hard or religion played such an important part in their world. But medieval people were really raunchy. They loved dirty jokes. They loved toilet humor, and they were really big fans of slapstick.

Your story is based on the violent and bloody 1293 Welsh rebellion. How did a mild-mannered person like yourself get in touch with those emotions?

[Laughs] Gosh, that’s a really good question. I think a lot of it is in my own imagination about how unfair the world is. In some ways, I’m still five years old and getting angry that the world is unfair.

Is either of the main characters like you?

Gwenhwyfar has my probably wrong-headed conviction of finding it really hard to let go of the way I think things should be, as opposed to just accepting the way life is. She’s very backward-looking, and that is something that I’m trying to unlearn. Cecily has less of me, because she’s so much more bold and in-your-face. Whereas I try to be way nicer than she is—it’s not always successful.

Ever wish you were born centuries ago?

Oh, good Lord, no! I love representative democracy and flush toilets and antibiotics. [Laughs] I like the past right where it is!

Author Information
Rick Margolis is SLJ’s executive editor. To read a starred review of The Wicked and the Just (Houghton Harcourt), turn to page 96.
Rick Margolis About Rick Margolis

Rick Margolis was executive editor for SLJ.